Sunday, February 7, 2016

A historic vote - then a historic letdown?

UPDATE 8:45 p.m. The bill has now passed the Pa. House.

A historic vote - then a historic letdown?


UPDATE 8:45 p.m. The bill has now passed the Pa. House.

The House of Representatives has only just now convened for what will likely be hours of debate today on a liquor privatization bill, but all signs seem to be pointing toward an historic vote by the chamber to finally approve the measure.

But before privatization supporters in the House start popping those champagne corks, they may want to consider their friends, down a Capitol hallway, in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said he expects the chamber to take up the issue in the next 30 to 60 days. But he said he also expects that the Senate will make changes to the bill, possibly even major ones.

He noted that although the House has been working on privatization for a long time, "it is not something that has been an item of active interest and discussion in the Senate."

But this much is clear, Pileggi said: "I don’t think anyone expects the Senate to simply take up the House bill and move it to the governor’s desk as is."

Though Pileggi deftly dodged the question of whether his caucus prefers modernizing the current system to selling it to the private sector - saying he doesn't subscribe to "labels" - the fact remains that top leaders in the chamber have made no secret where they stand: they are more open to modernizing the State Store system.

Even Pileggi has said he thinks it is possible to give customers all the convenience and choice they need without a sell-off of the system.

Pileggi did note that the House bill, the way it's written now, does call for a hybrid system that would allow state wine and liquor stores to be phased out gradually, with the possibility of some even remaining open in certain counties. But the bill also calls for shutting the whole retail end down if there ends up being fewer than 100 stores left in the state, once private industry has a shot at entering the liquor market.

Though Pileggi didn't say it out loud, his words made it clear that there is still a long road ahead legislatively for any privatization measure.

"We need 26 of our 27 members in our caucus at a minimum to pass a bill, so there is a very practical consideration ahead about what proposal would 26 members of the Senate Republican caucus support," he said, adding: "And we haven't had this discussion yet."

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About this blog

Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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